Not all dance movies are created equal.
Although I was a graceful and gifted dancer myself, when I was three and thought tutus were the object of pure happiness, I cannot confess to a love of ballet (although I recently took one in at the Nation Arts Centre, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which was exactly as bad as it sounds) or of ballet movies. I watched The Turning Point with an almost open mind because Anne Bancroft! Shirley MacLaine! But still I felt overwhelmingly meh. I mean, the dynamic between the two women was pretty great. Shirley MacLaine was a ballerina herself but she gave it up to marry and have children (and possibly to prove that her dancer boyfriend wasn’t gay). Her friend has the career she always envisioned for herself, but now that the friend is getting older, she’s also getting edged out of the company (and by Shirley MacLaine’s daughter, irony of ironies). So both have regret, both sort of envy the other’s life. But there’s just an awful lot of ballet in there (excerpts from 7). For fans of Sex and the City, it’s kind of fun to see Carrie’s Russian do the thing we always knew he did, but the novelty wore off for me quickly and it just kept going (although also interesting that SJP is a mainstay of these dance movies as well!)
Girls Just Want To Have Fun is the SJP movie you forget to be glad you’ve never seen. You haven’t seen it, have you? She plays this kid who’s new in town and wants nothing more than to make it on “Dance TV” so her new friend Helen Hunt (who apparently always sounded like somebody’s 40ish bitter ex-wife) convinces her to try out. Turns out she’s a dancer AND a gymnast, which means there’s going to be some truly putrid body double work each and every time her character decides to turn a cart-wheel – and she decides it A LOT. Oh the leotards, the leg warmers, the big hair, and Helen Hunt’s pineapple earrings. Oh, and a 12 year old Shannen Doherty before she got her Hollywood teeth. What’s not to love? Everything! Everything is not to love, but especially the title, which bears no relation to the film, other than wanting to use the song, but not the actual Cyndi Lauper version, which might have made sense. This girl just wanted it to end.
Baz Luhrmann likes to call Strictly Ballroom the first in his Red Curtain trilogy (along with Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge!) but if you’re expecting anything like those other movies, boy are you in for some stinging disappointment. No recognizable actors, no recognizable tunes. It’s just a generic ugly duckling story, but will boring ballroom dancing. A plain novice dancer pairs up with an experienced but experimental dancer to win a championship that their unorthodox moves render them technically ineligible for. And if you think regular ballroom dancing’s boring, wait until the power goes out and the music fails. Sean fell totally and completely asleep.
First Position is a documentary I caught on Netflix. I actually quite enjoyed it as it follows young ballet dancers trying to get noticed by prestigious schools and dance companies. I was particularly struck by the parents – sure there are your typical dance moms who cry at the very thought of their kids choosing childhood over ballet, but there’s also a dad who took a 6 month tour of duty in Iraq rather than a 2 year stint on a naval base where his son wouldn’t be able to train, and a mother who stays up late dyeing the “flesh” coloured parts of her daughter’s costumes brown, to match her skin. These kids are super dedicated and we see a lot of the sacrifices their families make to get them where they are, but in this case I might argue that we didn’t see enough ballet – or at least not enough to understand why some failed while others succeeded.